Zacks Investment Research cut shares of Altria Group Inc (NYSE:MO) from a buy rating to a hold rating in a research report released on Monday.

According to Zacks, “Shares of Altria have underperformed the industry in the last three months, owing to declining demand of tobacco. The ongoing anti-tobacco campaigns and price rise to offset surging taxes have been hurting the demand for tobacco. Nevertheless, we believe the company’s shift to low-risk, smokeless tobacco products to boost market share remains appealing. Altria has proactively responded to the changing market scenario toward low-risk tobacco products and offered several reduced risk tobacco products which helped it to maintain market share. MarkTen e-cigarette and Green Smoke e-vapor are few flagship products belonging to this category. Further, Altria is expected to sell Philip Morris’s iQOS heated tobacco product in the domestic market, once it gains approval from the FDA. The company is also on track with its cost-reduction initiatives and consolidation of certain manufacturing facilities to streamline operations.”

A number of other research firms have also issued reports on MO. Vetr lowered Altria Group from a buy rating to a hold rating and set a $80.38 price target on the stock. in a research report on Monday, June 19th. BidaskClub raised Altria Group from a buy rating to a strong-buy rating in a research report on Wednesday, June 21st. Cowen and Company set a $78.00 price target on Altria Group and gave the company a hold rating in a research report on Friday, July 28th. Piper Jaffray Companies set a $76.00 price target on Altria Group and gave the company a buy rating in a research report on Thursday, July 27th. Finally, Jefferies Group LLC reaffirmed a hold rating and issued a $70.00 price target (down previously from $71.00) on shares of Altria Group in a research report on Monday, July 17th. One analyst has rated the stock with a sell rating, seven have given a hold rating and seven have assigned a buy rating to the company. The stock has an average rating of Hold and an average target price of $71.99.

Altria Group (MO) traded down 0.5027% on Monday, reaching $64.4842. 1,607,313 shares of the company’s stock traded hands. The firm has a 50-day moving average price of $63.42 and a 200-day moving average price of $69.38. The stock has a market capitalization of $124.33 billion, a price-to-earnings ratio of 8.5038 and a beta of 0.64. Altria Group has a 52 week low of $60.01 and a 52 week high of $77.79.

Altria Group (NYSE:MO) last posted its quarterly earnings results on Thursday, July 27th. The company reported $0.85 earnings per share (EPS) for the quarter, missing analysts’ consensus estimates of $0.86 by ($0.01). The company had revenue of $4.37 billion during the quarter, compared to analyst estimates of $5.02 billion. Altria Group had a net margin of 29.87% and a return on equity of 64.56%. Altria Group’s revenue for the quarter was up 3.2% on a year-over-year basis. During the same period in the prior year, the business earned $0.81 EPS. On average, analysts predict that Altria Group will post $3.27 earnings per share for the current year.

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Altria Group declared that its Board of Directors has authorized a stock repurchase plan on Thursday, July 27th that authorizes the company to repurchase $1.00 billion in outstanding shares. This repurchase authorization authorizes the company to purchase up to 0.7% of its stock through open market purchases. Stock repurchase plans are often a sign that the company’s management believes its stock is undervalued.

The business also recently announced a quarterly dividend, which was paid on Tuesday, October 10th. Shareholders of record on Friday, September 15th were paid a $0.66 dividend. This is an increase from Altria Group’s previous quarterly dividend of $0.61. This represents a $2.64 annualized dividend and a dividend yield of 4.07%. The ex-dividend date of this dividend was Thursday, September 14th. Altria Group’s dividend payout ratio (DPR) is 34.83%.

In other Altria Group news, CEO Martin J. Barrington sold 15,300 shares of Altria Group stock in a transaction that occurred on Thursday, August 10th. The stock was sold at an average price of $65.03, for a total value of $994,959.00. Following the transaction, the chief executive officer now directly owns 701,074 shares in the company, valued at approximately $45,590,842.22. The sale was disclosed in a document filed with the Securities & Exchange Commission, which is available at the SEC website. Also, Director Dinyar S. Devitre sold 32,000 shares of Altria Group stock in a transaction that occurred on Thursday, September 21st. The shares were sold at an average price of $61.22, for a total value of $1,959,040.00. The disclosure for this sale can be found here. Company insiders own 0.11% of the company’s stock.

Several hedge funds have recently made changes to their positions in MO. Waldron LP grew its stake in shares of Altria Group by 17.1% in the 1st quarter. Waldron LP now owns 26,627 shares of the company’s stock valued at $1,901,000 after purchasing an additional 3,896 shares during the last quarter. Everett Harris & Co. CA grew its stake in shares of Altria Group by 17.9% in the 1st quarter. Everett Harris & Co. CA now owns 6,589 shares of the company’s stock valued at $471,000 after purchasing an additional 1,000 shares during the last quarter. Nikko Asset Management Americas Inc. grew its stake in shares of Altria Group by 35.7% in the 1st quarter. Nikko Asset Management Americas Inc. now owns 74,900 shares of the company’s stock valued at $5,349,000 after purchasing an additional 19,700 shares during the last quarter. Gamble Jones Investment Counsel grew its stake in shares of Altria Group by 0.4% in the 1st quarter. Gamble Jones Investment Counsel now owns 76,187 shares of the company’s stock valued at $5,441,000 after purchasing an additional 283 shares during the last quarter. Finally, Russell Investments Group Ltd. grew its stake in shares of Altria Group by 22.7% in the 1st quarter. Russell Investments Group Ltd. now owns 2,563,499 shares of the company’s stock valued at $183,079,000 after purchasing an additional 474,122 shares during the last quarter. Institutional investors own 61.82% of the company’s stock.

Altria Group Company Profile

Altria Group, Inc is a holding company. The Company’s segments include smokeable products, smokeless products and wine. The Company’s subsidiaries include Philip Morris USA Inc (PM USA), which is engaged in the manufacture and sale of cigarettes in the United States; John Middleton Co (Middleton), which is engaged in the manufacture and sale of machine-made cigars and pipe tobacco, and UST LLC (UST), which, through its subsidiaries, including U.S.

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